Democracy: On the one hand, it’s good news that Qatar went to the polls yesterday to vote on a constitution. On the other hand, it’s a sad commentary for the nation and the region that holding an election is unique news.
I would call an article on celebrating the ins and outs of polling procedures quaint rather than sad. And I would say that a democratic vote on a new constitution by *any* arab emirate is a cause for major celebration by all of us.
I don’t know if their moving towards a constitutional democracy was cause or effect of our moving our air base to Qatar, or even if there was no relationship. Frankly, I’m not sure I care. Qatar is paving the way for a true democracy in the Gulf and setting an example for other countries in the region. That’s good news no matter how you look at it.
I’m pretty certain Bahrein held elections of some sort not too long ago (a couple of years), so the news from Qatar is not exactly “unique.” Oman has been moving towards more democratic restraints on the absolute monarchy as well; the Sultan doesn’t quite trust his successor to be as benign a despot as he himself is. Benign despotism (with the emphasis on “benign”) has long been a standard in most GCC countries, for that matter; the Sultan of Oman used to spend a lot of time on “meet the people” tours, going from village to village, basically asking asking the elders “what can I do to make your life better?” It’s more effective than writing your congressman, I’ll tell you.
But the problem with benign despotism, of course, is that it can all too easily stop being benign…
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